In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we spoke to the Makers and Designers of the puppets we have in The Finger Players (TFP), to create the repository that is the Puppet Origin Stories – a humble effort to highlight the background, and the making and design history of these puppets. We hope that this can be a continued endeavour at TFP, and we hope that you can go on this journey with us.
In 1999, The Finger Players (TFP) was officially incorporated as a company. Before that, it was established as a children’s unit in 1996 under the Theatre Practice (then known as the Practice Theatre Ensemble), with the guidance of theatre doyen, Kuo Pao Kun. The four founding members, Tan Beng Tian, Ong Kian Sin, Benjamin Ho and Lee Wai Ying left the Theatre Practice officially in 1998, and operated mostly within Beng Tian’s house, with rehearsals and puppet-making occurring in whatever space was available to them.
Long Nv and Tudou were created for the production of Dragon Dance, which was also the first production that Benjamin Ho headed. It was performed by Ong Kian Sin and Golden Horse Academy Award Winner, Yeo Yann Yann. Rehearsals were conducted at Yann Yann’s place.
Some of the materials used to create Long Nv and Tudou were from The Theatre Practice’s (TTP) annual spring cleaning. TTP had a huge spring cleaning every year, and with TFP moving out that year, a large amount of materials from TFP’s puppet-making were kept and stored at Beng Tian’s house. As Kian Sin had yet to receive his work permit during that time, he was shuttling between two countries, collating and sourcing materials from various places in Singapore, whilst crafting the puppets from his home in Malaysia.
As Dragon Dance was meant to be a two-hander, it was essential for the puppets to be versatile enough to be manipulated by one puppeteer. Kian Sin knew that it was vital for this puppet to have gadgets so that the puppeteer could independently manipulate it in different ways. He invented a mechanism where a string connected the base of the spine to the puppet’s head, thus allowing the head to nod and turn.
The production of Dragon Dance had an interactive element to it as well: audience members were asked to form a long dragon and “pray” for rain together. This was an aspect which they had learnt from Kuo Pao Kun when they were part of TTP. As Kuo Pao Kun believed that the theatre experience should not be a passive activity and should involve active interaction with the artwork, audience members were regularly engaged as part of the performance, in line with his philosophy.
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